The United States accused Islamic State insurgents on Tuesday of carrying out a reign of violence targeting religious minorities and opposition ethnic groups, even as they have been losing control of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Islamic State “is clearly responsible for genocide … and crimes against humanity.”
Tillerson, speaking as he released the State Department’s annual report on religious freedom in 199 countries and territories around the globe, said, “Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent.”
The top U.S. diplomat said that “almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected we know that instability, human rights abuses and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root. We cannot ignore these conditions.”
Tillerson singled out seven countries for an array of abuses in the way their governments treat the faithful: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, China, Pakistan and Sudan. Tillerson said that in various ways these nations intimidate believers practicing their faiths through harassment, imprisonment and executions.
“No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” he said.
But he laid out his most detailed indictment against Islamic State.
“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping enslavement and even death,” he said.
“To remove any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department,” Tillerson said, “the crime of genocide requires three elements: specific acts with specific intent to destroy and hold or impart specific people. Members of national, ethnic, racial or religious groups. Specific act-specific intent-specific people. Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled.”
Tillerson said the protection of religious minorities “and others who are targets of violent extremism – remains a human rights priority” for President Donald Trump’s administration.
The report said that in Iraq, where Baghdad’s forces have reclaimed the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State control, the insurgents “pursued a campaign of violence against members of all faiths, but against non-Sunnis in particular.”
The State Department said, “In areas under its control, ISIS continued to commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, and the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities.”
It said Islamic State “continued to engage in harassment, intimidation, robbery, and the destruction of personal property and religious sites. In areas not under ISIS control, it continued suicide bombings and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against all segments of society.”
In Syria, the report said that “nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS and … al-Nusra Front, targeted Shia, Alawites, Christians, and other religious minorities, as well as other Sunnis, with indiscriminate attacks, as well as killings, kidnappings, physical mistreatment, and arrests in the areas of the country under their control.
“ISIS killed dozens through public executions, crucifixions, and beheadings of men, women, and children on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and cursing God,” the report said, “In Raqqa [Islamic State’s self-declared capital] and elsewhere in Syria, ISIS continued to hold thousands of enslaved Yazidi women and girls kidnapped in Iraq and trafficked to Syria to be sold or distributed to ISIS members as ‘spoils of war’ because of their religious beliefs.”
The report singled out China for what it said were the government’s abuse, detention, arrests and torture of adherents of various faiths.
“The government cited concerns over the ‘three evils’ of ‘ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism’ as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uighur Muslims,” the report said. “The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries, many of whom sought asylum in those countries on the grounds of religious persecution.”